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Fred Woodward Trio: KCCK's Jazz Under the Stars brings groove to Noelridge Park

by Diana Nollen, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, IA

Jazz guitarist Fred Woodard uses one urban garden to nurture his soul and another to grow his music.

The Iowa City native, 48, lives with his wife and three children in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, where he says he has just enough space to plant some vegetables.

While he says he doesn't have many interests outside of family, teaching and music, in gardening he found "an escape from everything. It gave me a chance to relax and think about other things," he says. "It's how I got the title of my latest CD. ... I have an outlet to maintain peace of mind. It's something, like music, that's therapeutic."

He'll give local audiences a taste of his "Urban Garden" tonight when the Fred Woodard Trio kicks off KCCK's "Jazz Under the Stars" series at 7 p.m. in Noelridge Park in northeast Cedar Rapids.

Performing with him on the new CD and in the concert are Cedar Falls native Hill Greene on bass and Chicago native Yoron Israel on drums. Both have esteemed careers apart from the trio. Greene plays in the New York City scene and in major cities around the world. Israel has performed with such heavy-hitters as Sonny Rollins, Grover Washington and Tony Bennett.

They all teach, as well. Israel is a faculty member at Boston's Berklee College of Music, where Woodard and Greene met as students in 1979. Greene teaches privately and at the Bass Collective in New York City and Woodard teaches at the Roland Hayes School of Music in Roxbury, Mass. Their fathers were teachers, too. Greene's father, the late Mitchell Greene, taught social work at the University of Northern Iowa and Woodard's father, also named Fred, recently retired from the English faculty at the University of Iowa.

Tonight's concert is "like a homecoming," Woodard says. "Iowa can see what their native sons have been able to produce in the jazz world."

As a composer, Woodard laces his straight-ahead jazz with other styles from his eclectic career.

"When I first graduated from Berklee, I was fortunate to be hired to play in a blues band with a regular gig in downtown Boston," he says. "That forced me to really study the blues idiom. Albert King and B.B. King were the two main influences that really led me to really try to see a connection between blues and jazz. In my opinion, blues and jazz idioms are closely related. Blues is the foundation of a lot of styles - and also the foundation of jazz music."

His early days with R&B bands and more pop-oriented music shines through "Urban Garden."

The disc's second track, "Grant Like," pays tribute to jazz guitarist Grant Green. "It explores a theme based off a lick transcribed from a solo of his, borrowed from him," Woodard says. "'Island Birdie' is calypso-flavored. 'Jingles' is a Wes Montgomery tune where the tempo is really fast. It's the most energetic tune on the CD. Mixed in is my composition 'Deniece,' dedicated to my daughter."

The title track honors students from the inner city, who have a lot of potential. "If the garden that is the students is tended to, they can do great things," he says.

And he traces the root of jazz through "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." His interpretation "shows where jazz came from on the musical continuum, from spirituals, then blues, then jazz - another derivative of blues." He melds the more modern styles on "Mean Street, No Bridges," over what he call "a funky foundation."

"I'm taking my experience of performing music in general and mixing it with blues, bebop and free jazz, following the African-American continuum of music through jazz," he says.

But don't expect his live concert to sound exactly like his new CD.

"My way of composing is a vehicle for improvisation," he says. "We're really talking about material that is based on whatever concept I'm trying to work on. I consider my compositions to be outlines for improvisation. Once the theme is stated, the group improvises. The life that it takes on depends on the group playing it.

"That keeps it fresh and challenging."

Diana Nollen
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, IA

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